Deconstructing Omoruyi's 2007 Punditry

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The exchange between Prof. Omo Omoruyi and Aonduna Tondu on the electoral chances of Buhari and Babangida or lack thereof has been as interesting as it has been disappointing. Interesting because it mirrors the emotional investments that Nigerians are already making in the distant 2007 presidential election; disappointing because the entire discussion has been premised on a problematic acceptance of the inevitability of the emergence of Buhari and Babangida as the candidates in the next presidential election. This discourse of inevitable choice (and perhaps outcome), one which supposes, a priori, that the choice in the next presidential election will come down to the two retired Generals, and upon which Omoruyi's initial piece and Tondu's response are anchored, represents a disturbing degeneration in the debate on the Nigeria's immediate political future. Since Omoruyi is the originator of this narrow, minimalist view of the political battle that lies ahead, I will focus on his piece. In response to what he read as uncharitable reception of his endorsement of the Obasanjo-Atiku ticket in the 4:19 elections, Omoruyi writes: My view was and still is today that as long as there is no provision for absentee ballot in Nigeria one should expect some of the Diaspora Nigerians of my caliber to endorse candidates in Nigerian elections.   I thought that this was a basic democratic right for all lovers of democracy in Nigeria.   Some Nigerians wanted to frighten me to abandon my endorsement. I concede that it is well within Omoruyi's or any diaspora Nigerian's rights to endorse any candidate of his or her choice. But Omoruyi's elevation of the rumored presidential ambitions of the two Generals in question to a political certainty hardly accords with the principles he claims to uphold. Moving from this mysterious reification of undeclared political scenarios to virtually reduce the next presidential contest to a battle between two men in a country of 120 million hardly accords with the pluralist leanings that the quote above suggests.At work here is perhaps an unconscious determination to predetermine the contours of the coming political contest, to winnow the number of people who can seek the highest office, and to anticipate personalities, ideologies, and agendas that transcend the two Generals and their largely outmoded notions of patrimonial and statist politics. Is it possible that Omoruyi's much (self-)advertised friendship with Babangida and his declared desire to see him win the 2007 presidential election is a stimulus, however subtle, in his exhibition of what smacks of an effort to anticipate and discredit those he sees as the likely opponents of his preferred but yet-to-be candidate - Babangida? If the fear of likely opposition is at the heart of Omoruyi's unfortunate - albeit inadvertent - effort to narrow the political space and reduce the number of participants, then one must implore him, as an avowed pluralist, to consider the greater fear of an electoral contest reduced to a clash of military egos, a fear that is shared by many more Nigerians than those, like him, who resent Babangida's likely opponents. More importantly, he should consider the fear that the continuous validation of a supposed Buhari-Babangida electoral clash could become a self-fulfilling prophesy, one which would confirm the fear currently being entertained by many Nigerians that the military establishment and members of the "ancient regime" have hijacked the Nigerian political landscape, making every election cycle no more than an extension of old barracks rivalries. If Omoruyi does not share this fear, then he should at least respect those who do - and I am sure they are many - and not foster discourses and insinuations that tend to magnify mere fears of unwelcome returns into monstrous paranoia.To insinuate a Buhari-Babangida electoral clash in 2007 into the emergent national political debate is, to many of us who are uninformed in the intrigues of power, to invoking a specter of past political failures. It conjures up lost opportunities and curtailed dreams. It, in fact, portends a replay of the monumental governmental betrayal of the past decades. Thus, we expect that political pundits like Omoruyi should once in a while take off their pundit caps and put on the cap of the economically brutalized and betrayed citizen, for whom an expansion of the democratic space beyond the political universe of the two Generals would be a welcome development.The insinuation of an inevitable two-man battle for the presidency in 2007 is also fraught with other pragmatic difficulties. It automatically assumes that in 2007, the North, broadly defined, would or should produce the president. As we are being constantly reminded by the occasional outbursts of excluded groups, the North may, in the interest of all concede, yet again, the presidency to another part of the country. And it gets even more problematic when you do not believe in the ethnicization or regionalization of the presidency and believe that aspiring to the presidency is every Nigerian's right. To concede the presidency to the North as Omoruyi's foundational thesis does is to thus invite another cycle of crisis founded on the anthem of Northern domination.I now turn to my second point, which is a response to a specific claim of Omoruyi's. He writes:One, he is my friend and this makes me to know his passionate belief in democracy and his belief in the unity of Nigeria as a uniter and not a divider.  I will start by making a declarative statement: unity is a hyperbolic political concept and is often invested with meanings that are external to it. It is with this declaration in mind that I disagree with the premise of the claim that Babangida should be elected president because is a uniter and not a divider. I have no problem with the letter of this claim, for I do not know for sure if Babangida is a uniter or a divider - unity and division being relative terms and malleable in meaning, and the label of uniter being a product of subjective perception. Nor do I think it is an important criterion of political choice. What I do have a problem with is the assumption that unity in and of itself, whether or not brought about by an act of leadership, amounts to a political achievement. I will not go into specific manifestations of disunity during Babangida's regime, which some would argue flowed directly from the General's Maradonic and malevolent disposition. That would be a paradoxical validation of the concept of unity as a political quality.I have stated elsewhere that in the context of Nigerian politics, unity, while a good thing, should not be upgraded to a political doctrine. Nor should it become a stand-in for political performance. Unity, true unity, is not a political act resulting from the agency or proclamations of political actors. Rather, it is indirectly related to good governance because good governance, equity, and justice promote contentment, which promotes good inter-group relations, which result, in the long run, in a more united polity. Unity, then, is ultimately a product of equity, social and economic justice, and good governance. Reversing this order is deeply problematic.This point is lent particular urgency by the fact that disunity and disintegration has emerged as the latest bogymen that the current superintendents of the failed state called Nigeria invoke to label and smear reasoned oppositions and to blackmail a traumatized populace. A government or politician whose repertoire of performance is empty save for empty pontifications on the need for unity is undeserving of popular acclamation. Unity cannot be decreed no matter how fascist a state becomes; it grows in tandem with contentment and feelings of political and economic inclusion.  It is a failed government that constantly touts the continued existence of Nigeria and belief in its corporate wholeness as an achievement. Similarly, only a discredited politician will advance unity as an electoral platform.There is nothing sacrosanct about Nigeria, to be sure, just as there is nothing inherently redeeming in unity. As we have seen, talks about unity have become vapid and ironic commentaries on and reminders of the failures of the current political establishment, of which Babangida is a part. In fact, there are situations in which unity can be a stifling burden and must be recalibrated to meet the aspirations and changing desires of stakeholders. And there are times when in fact courageous nations must reject forced or inherited unity or at least its use as a political bogeyman and as a tool of political blackmail. Those of the Obasanjo-IBB mindset, who see national unity as an end in itself and as something worth preserving even if it is largely enforced and artificial, are infinitely bigger enemies of Nigeria than those of us who are disgusted at the misuse of the discourse of unity to clutter the on-going assessment of the national rot.Omoruyi's "uniter" label is proof positive that this political sleight of hand - this rhetoric of political obfuscation - is working. Instead of discussing the abysmal record of Babangida vis-à-vis his rumored presidential ambition, we are now being reminded that Babangida is a believer in Nigeria. The news for Omoruyi is that we all are, but only to the extent that Nigeria and those who continue to run it aground also believe in us. Belief in Nigeria and a fanatical commitment to its largely artificial unity is, far from an electoral asset, a dangerous and fascist mindset, one which runs counter to the democratic pretensions that Babangida, Obasanjo, and all the other propagators of Nigerian unity routinely afflict us with.
Moses Ochonu, a US based Academic can be reached at ebe@nigeriavillagesquare.com